When a 25-year-old’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to “start early”, you can’t help but smile. However, when the advice comes from the co-founder of a startup sitting on a pile of US$37 million in VC funding, you sit up and pay attention.
Such is the case with Raghav Chandra, Co-founder of Gurgaon-based online services marketplace UrbanClap that enables users to find and hire trusted service providers like plumbers, beauticians, yoga trainers and wedding photographers.
“I’m 25 and look 19. It’s a double whammy, but I think I use it well,” he laughs during a freewheeling chat with e27. And his bespectacled geeky looks are deceptive for a person who speaks like a seasoned businessman.
UrbanClap was not a beginner’s luck for Chandra, who left his job as a software engineer at Twitter in the US to return to India to solve what he says the problems that were more personal to him and which he could relate to.
With the backing of his Computer Engineering degree from UC Berkeley and working experience with Yelp and Twitter, Chandra returned to India with a plan to start his ride-sharing platform.
After a few months of research, he launched Buggi — a peer-to-peer auto-rickshaw ride sharing platform in November 2013, but had to shut it down after six months.
“I realised I could not scale up the business the way I had wanted; it would have required a lot of operational work and not so much tech, so I lost interest,” Chandra reasons.
The entrepreneur bug had bitten him by then, and the stage of toying around with other ideas started. It was then that he was introduced, through a common friend, to Varun Khaitan and Abhiraj Bhal, who were working with the Boston Consulting Group. They too were dabbling with ideas for their startup, and with their consulting background and Chandra’s tech skills, the trio launched UrbanClap in October 2014.
“They wanted someone in core tech, and in my experience, I thought it would be great to have someone to partner with. It’s a very lonely journey if you start alone, especially if your ambitions are really big. It kills you to be solving operational problems that are too small after you’ve left so much,” he says.
UrbanClap — the business
Broken ribs and bedridden — this is how he wrote the first codes for UrbanClap, laughs Chandra while narrating how a jet ski accident in Thailand was responsible for his bad state then.
Little did he imagine that a year and a half later, UrbanClap would count the likes of Bessemer Venture Partners, SAIF Partners and Accel Partners among its investors, with business tycoon Ratan Tata being the latest addition.
After raising US$12 million across two rounds from SAIF and Accel, UrbanClap raised US$25 million in Series B round of funding, led by Bessemer.
“This was more of a ‘take it while you can’ thought”, partially because we could do it and partially it was a good planning,” he says, adding that the startup is now well-funded and doesn’t require funding anytime soon.
“We are very frugal with our spends; our Series A still remains and B is completely locked up,” he says. A bulk of the investment, he says, would be used to strengthen the team and in branding and marketing.
Focussed on urban areas, UrbanClap has conservative plans for expansion in the near future; it aims to “capture the top 10 cities”. It already operates in seven key cities in India.
“The marketplace won’t survive in a lot of cities and we will have to take a call on expansion, maybe sometime this year,” says Chandra, adding that global expansion may also be on the cards if business growth continues to be on track.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Start early: “I would give them this same advice that I took for myself,” he starts his list.
Don’t brainstorm: “That’s the stupidest thing you can do. People look for unique ideas, but you need to go through your experiences and figure it out. You can’t be taught just by hearing, but if you could be, then don’t spend too much time looking for uniqueness. Nothing is unique, it’s just a different way of doing things and you will not be able to figure it out just by thinking,” he says.
Do your math: “A lot of folks think funding is the business model. Funding is not the business model. Don’t be too excited about funding; you should place yourself in a position where you should be able to sustain without funding”.
Take the plunge: “Start working on an idea and execute it. If it fails, then you are equipped with the learnings of what not to do and how to build a business.”
Work hard: “When you start hearing family complaining, when you’re stressed about it, and when you’re scared to meet people all the time because they waste your timing asking questions, that’s a good state because that means you’re working hard.”